Apr 18, 2020 - Health

Date from home: Romance in the age of the coronavirus

Illustration of heart wearing a face mask

Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios

Widespread social distancing has forced Americans to get creative with how they connect to one another, including romantically.

The big picture: The dating industry was poised to take a hit amid the coronavirus outbreak as potential suitors are generally unable to meet in-person. Platform Match, which also owns Tinder and OkCupid, has seen stocks tumble 25%. But daters are turning to digital courtship through video chats and virtual activities as an alternative.

The dating app Bumble saw increased user engagement as Americans adjusted to social distancing last month.

  • The platform reports a 26% spike in messages sent during the week ending March 27 compared to the week ending March 13. Trump declared COVID-19 a national emergency on March 13.
  • The app is also allowing users to add a badge to their profiles signaling they're open to virtual dating, and to filter out users who are not.

Web-based first dates are becoming the new normal, with platforms seeing a dramatic increase in users turning to calls and video chats.

  • Bumble has seen an 84% increase in users using the app's voice call and video chat tools.
  • OkCupid has experienced a 180% increase in mentions of FaceTime, Skype and Zoom on profiles and the platform has seen an 83% increase in users going on virtual dates in April compared to March.
  • A new dating app called “Quarantine Together” launched last month, with a built-in video chat option and periodic reminders to wash your hands.
  • Coffee meets Bagel has introduced virtual speed dating, with 10- to 15-minute video calls moderated by a company representative.

Between the lines: The dating industry argues that digital-first dates could become the standard beyond the COVID-19 outbreak.

  • The founder of the dating site "The League" told Axios in December: "In-person first dates will definitely be replaced by digital dates, as the stakes are lower and with video chatting you can figure out whether or not you click within the first few minutes."
  • OkCupid surveyed its users on their virtual-date preferences, finding that 31% favor a game or activity, 29% want digital dinner and drinks, 25% want a simple video chat and 15% would opt for remotely watching a TV show or movie together.

The bottom line... Hinge told its users:

"We're lucky to live in a time where we can have video chat dates, phone call dates & connect virtually in an infinite number of ways. Stay home, date from home & we’ll get through this together."
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